WASHINGTON — Prince George’s County Police Chief Hank Stawinski says an independent panel that will look into allegations of racism and retribution within the department will hold its first meeting next week.
At the same time, the Justice Department Thursday confirmed receipt of a letter of complaint from a group of minority officers, who claim “rampant discrimination” inside the police department. WTOP obtained a copy of the complaint this week.
Stawinski, in a WTOP interview, said a preliminary meeting will be held next week, to begin fact-finding into allegations that minority officers are being treated unfairly.
“The broad categories will be practices, promotions and discipline,” said Stawinski. He said the topics were selected because he has been led to believe the categories were included in the officers’ complaint to the Justice Department.
“I don’t want to describe them as rumors, I want to say they are concerns, but they are not specific concerns,” he said.
Stawinski and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89 President John “Zeek” Teletchea have selected co-chairs to head the panel.
“We agreed that we would convene a panel with representatives from outside the department, to look at these issues, in the broad categories being practices, promotions and discipline,” said Stawinski.
Stawinski said on Oct. 24, 2016, he was alerted officers from the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association and the United Black Police Officers Association had sent a letter to the Department of Justice.
On Thursday, the Justice Department confirmed the letter had been referred to its Civil Rights Division, but did not comment on the investigation.
Stawinski said on Oct. 25, he had a note hand-delivered to the Justice Department, offering his cooperation.
“You don’t have to tell me what you’re looking into, but if you want information, I’ll provide it to you,” said Stawinski, paraphrasing his note to the Justice Department.
After not receiving a response, Stawinski approached the FOP about enlisting independent fact-finders.
“I was not receiving specific information, I was receiving broad allegations of trouble,” said Stawinski. “The reason the panel exists is because I could no longer sit still and allow that narrative to continue, and be in a position where I couldn’t act.”
Union head Teletchea said the independent panel will be a safe place to air grievances.
“You can voice concerns with any or all of the members of the panel publicly or privately,” wrote Teletchea in a statement sent to members Friday. “We look forward to this process because only through self-examination can we become better.”
Stawinski said the formulation of the panel has been in the works since October, long before news of the Justice Department probe.
“I have tried diligently, for months now, to try to get specific information, to determine whether or not there was an actual structural problem [within the department], or misperceptions,” said Stawinski. “I wasn’t getting that information.”
Stawinski, who has run the department for two years, said he will continue to hold officers accountable.
“If there are problems within this department, I will take action to correct them,” said Stawinski.
However, Stawinski said he has not been provided with enough specifics about the allegations contained in the complaint filed with the Justice Department.
Stawinski said he would take necessary action based on information gathered by the independent panel.
“Tell me what the facts are, so I can deal with this,” said Stawinski. “I will not make decisions that impact people’s lives and careers, based on rumor and generalizations.”
The complaint was first reported by WTOP’s television news partner, NBC Washington.